Liberal, progressive types are not generally supportive of calls for the UK to leave the European Union, perceiving the Eurosceptic field as being dominated by xenophobes and unreconstructed Thatcherites who long to celebrate a Brexit by piling up a great bonfire of social and employment rights.
It should not be too surprising that Brussels has made a few good calls during the forty-years we have been subject to it, of course, but I have found in my own personal experience that many of these much-vaunted rights exist only on paper for those who need them most.
Working in the hotel and restaurant trade for four years before joining the referendum campaign, I feel I can say with confidence that Free Movement of Labour has rendered the rules on regular breaks, time between shifts and even the minimum wage a dead letter in that sector. No-one is irreplaceable, and anyone who expects reasonable (or even legal) working conditions is quickly winnowed out.
By all accounts things are far worse in sectors such as agriculture, where there have been a number of recent reports of EU migrants being subjected to 120-hour weeks, having their pay withheld and being intimidated and even physically assaulted by supervisors on British farms.
This is the free market in human beings that Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour MP and former coalminer, warned against at the inception of the Single Market.
“It wasn’t principally about letting workers decide where they’d look for jobs”, he wrote in his recent memoirs. “The main aim was to supply cut-price workers to capitalism.”
But if the worst excesses of Free Movement of Labour are not enough to persuade progressives that the EU system does not serve their social objectives, the consequences of another, too often overlooked European “freedom” certainly should be.
This is the Free Movement of Capital, which prevents governments from insisting that profits must be retained in the country in which they are made until tax has been paid on them. This enables a whole slew of “industrial scale” tax avoidance schemes with their nexus in Luxembourg, the pet haven of the EU where (perhaps not coincidentally) the current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, served first as Finance Minister and then as Prime Minister from 1989 until 2013.
Britain’s new challenger banks are backing Brexit precisely because of the flaws in this deeply unfair system, which rigs the game against small lenders and in favour of the ‘Too Big to Fail’ multinationals.
Pre-eminent among these financial behemoths is Goldman Sachs, famously described by Rolling Stone in colourful (but not unjustified) terms as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”.
Long one of the European Union’s principal cheerleaders, Goldman warned last year that it was “imperative” that Britain remain within the bloc. Now the world’s most powerful investment bank has put its money where its blood funnel is, pledging a six-figure sum to the Remain campaign.
Well, if the association of Nigel Farage with the campaign to leave the EU makes Left-leaning voters shift uncomfortably in their seats, the fact that Goldman Sachs is bankrolling the Remain campaign should make their skin crawl. This is the same bank that has played a pivotal role in virtually every major manipulation of the market since the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and come up awash with cash every time.
It was Goldman Sachs that inflated the great internet bubble in the 1990s. It was Goldman Sachs that raked in huge sums selling toxic securities backed by bad mortgage loans while betting the market would crash before the global recession. It was Goldman Sachs that helped drive up food prices through speculation in the commodities market it pushed to deregulate, driving tens of millions into poverty and hunger.
Perhaps most unforgivably, as far as we in Europe should be concerned, it was Goldman Sachs that was the chief architect of the Greek crisis, devising Byzantine, cross-currency, off-the-books loans that disguised a huge chunk of the country’s debts in 2001 – only for the cost of this debt to double after the September 11th attacks because of the way the bank had structured the Greek repayments.
We all know what the consequences have been. Perpetual austerity, the imposition of severe restrictions on the elected government’s freedom of action by the EU, and a spike in suicide rates of 35 per cent as employment goes into freefall.
Could the European Union possibly get a grip on this vampire squid’s slippery tentacles? It seems highly unlikely, for those tentacles snake their way into virtually every EU power structure. The chairman of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, is the former managing director of Goldman Sachs International.
Former Goldman non-executive director and EU Competition Commissioner, Peter Sutherland, was instrumental in arranging the bailout that was forced on Ireland. The former head of the International Monetary Fund’s European Department, which assisted the European Central Bank and the European Commission in overseeing the austerity regime in Greece, was a vice-chairman of GoldmanSachs International.
The list goes on, and the roll call of Goldman people that have appeared in positions of influence in the EU are complemented by an enormous lobbying effort in Brussels which upped its spending fourteen-fold from 2013 to 2014, amid accusations that its true spend is actually far higher.
It was the future Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who warned all the way back in 1993 that the Treaty on European Union “takes away from national Parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”.
Perhaps we are not quite all the way there yet, but no corporation better underlines the danger than Goldman Sachs. Having made such a huge investment in an EU system from which it draws so much power and profit – with glittering prizes such as a Capital Markets Union on the horizon – it’s no surprise at all to see that it donating a portion of its obscene riches to the Remain campaign.
Goldman Sachs is not alone, either, with Credit Suisse also coming out to warn voters that Brexit would be a disaster in a move the Remain campaign has embraced as an “important intervention”. Ordinary voters, less impressed by such companies in the post-bailout era, might well ask themselves if what’s good for a Switzerland-based banking corporation which plead guilty to criminal tax evasion charges in America less than two years ago is likely to be good for them.
In fact, it’s time for the everyone, especially Brussels’ traditional, Left-leaning supporters, to accept that far from protecting us from the financial oligarchy companies like Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse represent, the European Union is entirely their creature. Our best hope of bringing these organisations to heel is to get out and restore the full range of decision-making powers to our national parliament, where it is at least possible that we might be able to send directly accountable representatives willing to stand up for policies that serve the public interest, not vested interests.